Congress still set to vote on bill that would deregulate gun silencers despite mass shooting fears

The National Rifle Association's lobby in Congress is a powerful one

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Monday 02 October 2017 19:36
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A visitors pulls the slide of a pistol with a silencer at a gun displays at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show on 10 February 2017 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
A visitors pulls the slide of a pistol with a silencer at a gun displays at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show on 10 February 2017 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas - the deadliest in modern US history - the debate over gun control has resurfaced yet again and the House is set to vote on a bill deregulating the use of silencers.

The increased availability of silencers, which dramatically reduce the decibel level of firearms but do not make them completely silent, could make it more difficult for innocent people and police alike to spot a gunman in a mass shooting incident.

No silencers were used by the alleged gunman Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas; loud rounds of gunfire can be heard on video taken by several of the 21,000 concert attendees at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, however, the proposed bill is part of a larger attempt by Republicans in Congress to loosen gun laws.

Nearly 60 people have died and over 400 were injured in the late night shooting allegedly from Mr Paddock's room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

The Republican-led bill, called the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act), would eliminate silencers from a list of prohibited items - which includes short-barrelled rifles and machine guns - available legally, for civilian use.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its powerful Congressional lobby do not refer to the item as silencers, but as “noise suppressors” and dubbed a previous version of the bill The Hearing Protection Act.

The NRA, which advocates on behalf of some 55 million gun owners though its official membership is only about one-tenth of that, said use of silencers are simply meant to protect frequent hunters and those on shooting ranges from hearing damage.

Silencers are legally available at the moment but require filling out an application, passing a background check, fingerprint submission, a $200 (£150) fee, and registering the silencer item with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).

Due to bureaucracy at the federal agency, the wait to be able to purchase a silencer could be several months.

As Mother Jones reported, the bill proposes only an immediate “background check, or potentially to no regulation at all in states that do not require background checks for gun sales in private, at gun shows and online.”

It also would eliminate the need to go through the ATF, thereby reducing wait times drastically.

The organisation has claimed that silencers are rarely used to commit crimes and regulation of them is cost-prohibitive.

However, opponents of the SHARE Act claim the fact that silencers are rarely used in crimes is proof that deregulating them could lead to an increase in their use in crimes.

Experts have said Republicans in Congress have been waiting for a president from their party to be able to pass bills lessening restrictions on firearms and this one is supported by the president’s son himself - Donald Trump Jr.

“A lot of this legislation is stuff written by lawmakers beholden to the gun lobby and they’ve just been waiting for a Republican president to sign it,” Shannon Watts, founder of gun restrictions advocacy group Moms Demand Action, told ThinkProgress.

The Congressman sponsoring the bill is Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, who survived unhurt the shooting at a Congressional baseball team practice in the early hours of 14 June just outside Washington DC.

No date has been set for the vote as yet.

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